Review: Quality of Life

The film may look like an overlit Collective Soul music video, but its stars give it grit.

Quality of Life
Photo: Frontier Films

Lane Garrison really riles up the crowd at my place whenever Tweener shows up on Prison Break to put a kink in Michael Scofield’s plans. He’s the shrillest, least interesting part of the nail-biting FOX show, but he’s the illest part of Benjamin Morgan’s Quality of Life, the story of two young graffiti artists from San Francisco whose friendship is destined for disaster. Garrison, as Michael, and Brian Burnam, as Curtis, are going nowhere fast, painting houses for Michael’s brother by day and graffiting walls, cars, and posters by night, but after a few pep talks—one righteous, one laced with Buddhist wisdom—Michael heads toward the straight and narrow, leaving his friend to his desperate alpha-punk devices. The angles Morgan gets on his characters are eye-catching but not particularly edgy: The film’s aesthetic often suggests a Modern Living editor’s take on a graffiti-ridden hood, but Morgan is almost chill for not trying to front ghetto idolatry—Larry Clark style. The film may look like an overlit Collective Soul music video, but its stars give it grit—like two shoe-shining street urchins scratching up a rich man’s loafers, or, as in one scene, smacking the tomato sauce from a slice of pizza onto a pair of new sneakers. So, a film about graffiti with the texture of a doodle, but a lovely doodle nonetheless, especially during scenes where Michael and Curtis are hanging out, stealing spray cans, or working their way into a friend’s art gallery. Their camaraderie is an authentic mix of love and simmering resentment, a synergy that extends to other great moments, like Curtis trying to convince his girlfriend to stay with him after she threatens to leave with her child. When Michael puts his portfolio together and tries to pitch his work at a graphic design agency, the schematic scene talks itself into oblivion (the boy has mad skillz but only kids with college educations need apply—blah blah blah), but, damn, if Garrison doesn’t sell a really credible show of fear, embarrassment, and pride as a dressed-up Curtis prepares to sell out.

 Cast: Lane Garrison, Brian Burnam, Luis Saguar, Mackenzie Firgens, Tajai, Fred Pitts, Ezra Stanley  Director: Benjamin Morgan  Screenwriter: Brian Burnam, Benjamin Morgan  Distributor: Frontier Films  Running Time: 85 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2004  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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